New Orleans police officers have engaged in unconstitutional conduct and violated federal laws in their use of excessive force; illegal stops, searches and arrests; racial and ethnic profiling; and mistreatment of gays, according to a scathing Justice Department report released Thursday.
The report, culminating a 10-month investigation by the department’s Civil Rights Division, says New Orleans police regularly used excessive force as retaliation but were not held accountable; deployed canines that were “uncontrollable;” lacked training programs on alternatives to force; regularly harassed gays and lesbians, and failed to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who announced the report’s findings at a news conference in New Orleans, said the Justice Department investigation found that the problems facing the NOPD were “serious, wide ranging, systemic and deeply rooted in the culture of the department.
“In the years since Hurricane Katrina devastated this great American city, New Orleans has undergone a rebirth,” Mr. Perez said. “Much of the focus has necessarily been, and continues to be, on bricks and mortar reconstruction — literally putting this city back together, rebuilding its infrastructure and its communities.
“Today is about rebuilding a core part of the fundamental infrastructure of democracy — an effective, accountable police department that controls crime, ensures respect for the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting,” he said.
Mr. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division, said the investigation found that the NOPD regularly failed to justify stops, searches and arrests; didn’t know the laws regarding when stops, searches and arrests were proper; worked under a system that encouraged the quantity of arrests rather than the quality; and failed to provide effective policing services to people with limited English proficiency.
He said the department also found that investigators and first responders lacked proper training; that the NOPD lacked adequate policies and training regarding discriminatory policing; and that the officers were unable to meaningfully help in Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking communities, in which services were either delayed or denied.
The probe also found long-standing and entrenched practices within the NOPD that resulted in failed systems for officer recruitment, promotion and evaluation; inadequate training and supervision; ineffective systems of complaint intake, investigation and adjudication; a failure to engage in community- oriented policing; inadequate officer assistance and support services; and a lack of sufficient community oversight.
“We all know that NOPDs problems did not start with Katrina,” Mr. Perez said. “Our investigation focused on the last two years, but the problems we uncovered are long-standing, and it will take the diligent efforts of the entire city to create sustainable change. Make no mistake — difficult work lies ahead.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who attended the news conference, noted that some New Orleans police officers “come to work each and every day dedicated to the vital role they play in protecting and serving the citizens of this wonderful City.
“Unfortunately, our conclusions reveal that many NOPD officers have failed to live up to what we rightfully expect from our law enforcement officers,” he said, adding that the NOPD failed to provide the protection the people of New Orleans should expect from their police department.
Mr. Cole said the investigation revealed that “poor policies, non-existent training and inadequate leadership have led to these systemic problems.
“Our goal is not to criticize the police departments operations and walk away,” he said. “We are dedicated to making the New Orleans Police Department better. We are dedicated to working with the city and the police department to fix whats broken for the people of New Orleans and for those officers of NOPD who serve ably and honorably.”
The investigation was requested in May 2010 by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, two days after taking office. He said at the time that “nothing short of a complete transformation is necessary and essential to ensure safety for the citizens of New Orleans.”
At the news conference, Mr. Landrieu said that no one was surprised by the “general tenor and the tone” of the Justice Department report, and that NOPD Police Chief Ronal Serpas said he planned to discuss it during a meeting Thursday with his senior leadership.
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Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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